Aristotle defines rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” It is a fundamental and crucial element to any democracy given form by shared ideals and standards of a ruling body.
The arrows of rhetoric are aimed toward eliminating uncertainty, thus one’s rhetorical efforts must be equipped with the bow of conceivable truth.
For persuasion to be rhetorical, it must employ three rhetorical means, one of which is “ethos.” This Greek word relates to an individual’s personal character, or what we could call “credibility” or “competence.”
Upon observation, a twisted notion of rhetoric seems to pervade the controversial tactics of our President’s loyal subordinates—suppressing significant matters, sweeping them under the rug, and conjuring from thin air issues that need not be given the slightest light of day. I can almost hear them chant some sort of mantra for their tactics: “out of sight, out of mind.”
Ever since President Duterte won the election in 2016, many of his values have been put under the microscope.
His statements are riddled with curses. His idea of “humor” is centered around objectifying and belittling women. His actions scream subjection to China. He has yet to fulfill a handful of his bold vows such as promising to ride a jet ski to Scarborough Shoal and plant the Philippine flag on its shore (something he quickly dismissed when later asked about it) and the promise he made before becoming president: that he would eradicate drugs and corruption in three months at the very least.
His inaction toward the prevalent extrajudicial killings and the Chinese encroachment in the West Philippine Sea and insistence on procuring the least effective vaccine for his “beloved” Filipinos stresses that he condones such offenses and implies a cold disregard for the welfare of his people.
Our President himself revealed to the public worrying information about unauthorized inoculation of people in his military circle which raised questions, shifted the pillar of trust and ultimately warranted a Senate probe.
In the midst of such inquiries, his subordinates pull tricks such as unilaterally abrogating the Department of National Defense-University of the Philippines accord, Red-tagging young activists, and need I mention the fiasco that is the mishandling of the Christine Dacera case, which showed the incompetence of those in the Philippine National Police?
Piling up on the record of significant political figures known to be loyal to the President are these self-serving, close-minded performances. When critical minds turn to our leaders for honesty, public service and justice, what they rest their eyes upon is naught but a wilderness, where uncertainty abounds.
Much to critics’ bewilderment, however, according to a Pulse Asia survey conducted last September 2020, President Duterte’s performance is approved by 91 percent of Filipinos while 5 percent disapproved and 5 percent were undecided.
While Aristotle’s concerns were centered less on the effectiveness of the persuasion itself than the means utilized to carry through the act of persuasion, the constituents of a government should concern themselves with the product of persuasion within themselves.
Do they honestly approve of the President’s performance despite the striking incompetence the consequences of which we suffer from? How in the world can this President, who is blatantly condoning acts which prove to be detrimental to the voiceless, achieve such a shocking agreeable percentage of approval?
Is there a greater force at play, say, fear?
Ethos is the anchor upon which good judgment and rationality are moored. Recent events shed light to the present administration’s ethos—questionable and not aligned with the common good.
If only we evaluate what really is important—spending funds wisely according to the needs of the Filipinos, nurturing the youth’s critical thinking, eradicating systems that foster corruption, providing better agricultural opportunities—maybe then can we realize that their shaky moral centers will endanger us.
For example, the risk of squandering taxpayers’ money and burying us in further debt if vaccine procurements are further strictly regulated and a vaccine which is found to have the least efficacy with a contrasting staggering price is prioritized despite apparent better choices.
The rich and those with connections will continue to evade the law, the marginalized are condemned to undeserved outcomes.
Trust must be ultimately attained from the audience—in this case, the constituents of the government—by putting forward the best interests of the constituents so as to develop goodwill. The needs of Filipinos demand more from the President and his administration.
When we in turn condone the incompetence of our public servants, the ones to take the brunt is not them but the marginalized, the powerless. The constituents are entitled to criticize the ineptitude of this administration without being Red-tagged without grounds, claim what they are owed, and be protected from fake news.
Constituents must remain critical. Dig beneath the beguiling smiles of politicians and their promises, look for and at what they are doing for the country.
Being complacent and keeping from being involved does not erase our influence in feeding politicians power, it only incriminates us more. In a democratic country, it is to the people whom the most power is vested, so let us wield that power to work with our public servants. Without us, there is no nation.
It is us whom they vowed to serve, not themselves and certainly not the Chinese. We are not mere pawns to be sacrificed just to maintain friendship between nations. It is high time this administration truly served and protected its constituents—regardless of religion, sector, class, or identity. —CONTRIBUTED
The author is a 21-year-old student from the University of the Philippines Los Baños.